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Friday, July 04, 2003

Rumble In The Bronx

So, here comes four games in Yankee Stadium for the Olde Towne Team…

I’m not fond of melodramatic pronouncements, but this may be their season on the line.

The Yankees this season look more beatable than they have in quite some time, having gone through a May slump unmatched by them since the 2000 stretch drive fade that mattered not since the Red Sox were too far back by then. Many of their veterans have been either injured or ineffective, and their newer players are not as good as advertised.
However, they’ve got a 4-2 head-to-head advantage on the Sox, and they come in to this series hot.

The Sox have baseball’s strongest run-scoring machine, something I anticipated going into the season. Millar, Mueller, and Walker have been finds; Varitek and Nixon have been solid; Nomar and Manny are playing like the superstars they are. There is not a weak spot in the entire lineup. They have, for the moment, a healthy Pedro Martinez. The bullpen, however, has been a colossal disaster, and Derek Lowe, Tim Wakefield, and Casey Fossum have struggled. Lowe and Wakefield have shown signs of putting it together, and maybe Byung-Hyun Kim may prove the answer at closer.

Interleague play, which has killed the BoSox the past few seasons, wasn’t a big deal this year, as Boston went 10-7 (with one game to be made up.) They’ve generally done pretty well beating up on the AL’s many weak teams and have largely avoided long slumps.

But they’ve blown a big opportunity to keep their momentum going by handing the Devil Rays their first series victory in nearly two months. After just coming one of their easier stretches of the year, they are still four games back and have yet to play Oakland or Seattle. And they’ve sucked

If they get swept, it means they will be 8 games out of first, probably looking up at Oakland in the Wild Card race, and possibly looking up at Toronto in their own division.
Just as bad, they will be convinced that they just can’t beat the Yankees. If they couldn’t beat them in May when the Yanks were down, and couldn’t even take one game in July… I wouldn’t say their season was quite over, but it would leave them literally behind the 8 ball, and an Oakland or Toronto surge could doom them to another early vacation. Their relatively soft September schedule may not matter.

A 3-1 loss would leave them 6 back, heading into a July that sees their longest road trip of the year and an August where they spend a lot of time playing Seattle, Oakland, and the Yankees. They may hold on for the WC lead for the time being depending on what Oakland and Toronto do. The upcoming trip to Toronto would be key.

What I am hoping for is a 2-2 split that would leave things more or less as they are. Being down four games is not where you want to be, but it’s one Yankee slump away from the lead. Everyone in the sports press would consider this a moral victory for the Sox. It would keep the pressure on the Blue Jays and Athletics. Their better odds are for the Sunday and Monday games, but I’d prefer the Sox find a way to win at least one of the first two games.

My pipe dream is for a 3-1 win, though I don’t think it’s likely. I hold out little hope for Saturday, for reasons explained below. But the Sox could beat David Wells with Derek Lowe today, clobber Andy Pettite on Sunday (John Burkett has actually pitched well of late) and beat Mike Mussina with Pedro on Monday. In Mussina’s last outing, he was roughed up by the Orioles. Lowe has been bad away from Fenway, but he has looked a little better recently than early in the season. If this were to happen, it would leave the Red Sox only 2 games down while almost assuring the Sox keep the WC lead going into the intermission. I wouldn't put money on this, but, well, did anyone see the Anaheim Angels coming last year?

A 4-0 sweep? I'd rather bet on Rich Garces winning the Tour de France. It's not going to happen, not with the Sox starting Ramiro Mendoza on Saturday against Judas Clemens. Grady must be smoking some sort of psychotropic substance to think this idea is a good one. Even if you’re going to try using Mendoza in the rotation, could you think of a worse game to pick? Didn’t you just get done playing Tampa and Detroit? Wouldn’t those have been better games with which to ease Ramiro into the rotation, a role where he has never succeeded in his career, rather than a game against the Yankees the day before a John Burkett start, which means a short outing more or less insures the Sox will be using the dregs of their bullpen a lot this series?

Either way, things are about to get interesting.


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